Tag Archive | research

Writing Restraints

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It’s been two weeks since the doctor put me in hand and wrist supports. She wants me in these restrictions 24/7, which I’m finding tough. Things have improved, though. On Sunday, I was able to get through the whole day without taking any pain medication. The tingling in my fingers has ceased most of the time, so it’s safe to say that with the supports my nerves are getting a much needed rest. Unfortunately, so has my writing.

As you might imagine, typing in these things is challenging and frustrating because I must go slower and I experience mucho typos as I go along. So all you proofreaders out there, take the next month off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

My blogging has taken a hit, and so has my novel, but yesterday I eecked out a couple more chapters to the first draft of my eighth novel. For anyone who’s been following me for a time knows it’s my quest to write and publish enough books to fill up my bookshelf in my living room. When I see an interview with Paterson or Nora Roberts, who both could fill a library with their stories, I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to compete. But should I?

It’s taken a forced retirement to get to the point where I have the time and inclination to dedicate myself to to write fun stuff. I have a twenty-year career of writing for profit, as a freelancer, a copywriter, a communication specialist, a marketer for small business, and a website developer.  I’ve written just about everything, from technical copy to sales materials to website copy. I don’t claim to be great at all genres, but I have enjoyed the writing ride.

After writing novels for the past three and a half years, I can’t say this kind of storytelling is more fun; it’s just different. My imagination, along with the research I do, does a dance with my own life experiences or people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Then I let the characters tell their stories.

What remains the same is the writing process–A draft, a second draft, a third and possibly a fourth draft, then a pass to the editor, a rewrite or two and then off to the proofreader.

I have a tough boss. Me. If I don’t like the product, I can’t sell it. If I don’t understand a product, I can’t sell it. The only thing that has really changed is the deadline because I’m the one who sets it.

So, if you ever pick up one of my books, my promise to my readers is this: I promise to do my best to weave a good story that will keep the pages turning, so you will feel your money was well spent.

And the wrist supports–well, they may be with me for a time, but I will adapt and the writing will continue. I’ll leave the typos to the editor and proofreader.

Incredible Stories

historyMy first love — after my husband and my pug dog Ernie — is writing. My second love is history. The best combination is writing about history.

I think I love history because I imagine what I would have done in a  particular situation. Of course, none of us really knows how we act. Will we be the hero or would we run away as a coward? Would we have been strong enough to stand up for our ideals with the threat of death or would we would hide our true feelings and go with the flow? When it boils down, no one truly knows. You have to be immersed in the facts and action of the time and space.

So much of true history is lost because people who write down the history we learn are usually the victors.

I’m not interested in the lives of the heroes that are celebrated.  I want to unearth the unsung heroes who are lost in time. That’s why most of my research is about ordinary women who have always risen to the occasion when their men go off to war. Because woman have been considered “the fairer sex” or even worse as “property,” their stories often get lost.

I would bet most of you didn’t know British women were drafted to work in the factories during WWII. I would also bet you didn’t know how Russian women pilots defended their country in combat in the battle of Stalingrad. Have you ever hear of the WASPs? How many nurses have you come across who landed with the troops in North America dressed as GIs with no weapon except a red cross on the sleeve of their uniform? Yet all of these situations actually happened.

All of these stories are out there, but you have to need a pick and shovel to find them. My novels, pay tribute to these women through fictional characters. I want to pass on these extraordinary stories because they are too amazing to ignore.

Real History Told

historyI love history. I love learning how people lived during different time periods. I want to know how they viewed the world and what they did because of their beliefs. I also enjoy hearing how written history — what we all learned in school — is just one person’s take on what really happened. Not surprisingly, the tales we learned are just that — tales.

Last night, I enjoyed a History Channel program called Fact or Fiction. The program covered the Mayflower coming to America, the Pilgrim’s first year of life here, and first Thanksgiving. The show compared the “facts” most of us believe with what actually happened in 1620.

Did you know the Mayflower was one of two ships that set sail for the new land? Yup. The other ship had to turn around twice before it ever left England because it leaked. Because the ship couldn’t be made sea worthy, the Mayflower took on more passengers than it should have had. mayflower

As far as landing on Plymouth Rock, well nobody knows for sure. In the historical log, there is no mention of the big rock. Actually, the Pilgrims were sailing for the port that was at the Hudson River (NYC), but strong winds blew them north, thus they landed in what now is Massachusetts. More likely Plymouth Rock was a landmark and for sure the Pilgrims didn’t step on it. 

The first year of life was tough on the novice settlers. Only half of the Pilgrims lived, and the survivors wouldn’t have lived if it hadn’t been for Squanto, an Indian who had earlier been captured by the English and thrown into slavery. While he was in England, he learned the language. At some point he escaped and sailed back to his home only to find that most of his tribe had been wiped out by smallpox.squanto

But this man, put aside any anger he might have had for the white man and taught the new settlers how to plant corn, hunt, and fish. Squanto was also instrumental in arranging a treaty with the Wampanoag Indians. In 1621, Massasoit, the chief of the tribe signed a “treaty of friendship” giving the English permission to occupy 12,000 acres of land. 

Now let’s talk about Thanksgiving. First of all, the Pilgrims only invited Chief Massasoit to dinner to commemorate the treaty. He in turn, invited 90 other Indians who first went out hunting and provided the meat for the meal. And no, it wasn’t turkey. It was venison.pilgrims

The thanksgivings after the first one were very dark–not at all the “Home Sweet Home” version we like to conjure up. If you’re interested in reading how the white man murdered over 700 Pequot Indians, here’s the link.  http://rense.com/general45/thanks.htm It’s much too gory for me to repeat.

My point to this discussion is that we all remember history to suit our needs. The truth about what really happened is in the hands of  people who wrote it down, and when stories are retold, the bad things seem to get lost. Worse yet, even some of the good things get lost. How many of you ever heard of Squanto?

I rest my case.

A Note from a MIA

I’ve been MIA for the past couple of days because the great outdoors has called me to put my energies into making our little space in the world more beautiful. Yup, time to cut the grass–again, water the plants and roll waterproofing the ramp, which I lovingly call “the deck.”  Physical work is satisfying, but tiring. After I’m done cutting, pruning, and fertilizing, I usually plop myself my weary carcass down in one of the patio chairs to catch my breath and inspect my handiwork. About this time, I could use a nice cool margarita!

Yesterday, I put a leaf blower together. Why yesterday after the thing sat in the garage in a water-logged cardboard box for about five years? Well, I needed some easy way to blow away the gunk from the gutters that were cleaned last week. The rotting leaves finally dried because we had two days without rain.  I needed to clear the stuff from the driveway, patio, and deck, so I could get to the rest of the chores on my Saturday list. The blower was easy to assemble (once I read the owner’s manual), and easy use once I strung together three or four extension cords and turned on the  power. I doubt whether I will hall it out again in the fall, though, because I think God never intended us to rake leaves. Eventually, they will blow away.

Beside the outside chores, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my next novel. STEPHANIA IN AMERICA has been in the works for about a year. My other books poured out of me and I had the draft down in a couple of months, but Stephania was my first character I didn’t like. In fact, she turned out less evil than I originally intended, but I can live with her because I understand her motivations. The story has gone through about four rewrites, a pass by my editor, and another pass before my proofreader. The next step is to approach the publisher and then my sister-in-law should have the cover art ready.

So, please be patient with me if I don’t post everyday; sometimes my day jobs get in the way of writing something worth posting. I feel guilty when I have no good stories or true words of wisdom to pass along.  . . like this post. I just thought you might want to know I am still around, just doing some different activities that need my attention.

Hopefully, I’ll “see” you tomorrow.

A Milestone — My 301st Post

Here we going a blogging among the world of words!

Here we going a blogging among the world of words!

Today I celebrating my 301st post. I’ve been blogging for almost a year, and I am so happy I’ve explored this world of writing. The best part for me is the people I’ve “met.” The novelist, writers,  photographers, and poets. I feel close enough to some of you to call you cyber-friends. I truly hope we can meet in the flesh someday.

You’ve traveled with me through the highs of getting new novels published and the lows of my husband’s MS journey. You’ve tolerated my rants, and even thought I had a couple pearls of wisdom from time to time. You’ve cried with me with the passing of my father and mother this year. I’ve been happy to share my thoughts about myself and amazingly, you’ve been interested. I’ve been lucky enough to received awards from other bloggers and was honored to be “Freshly Pressed” once. So, this blogging journey has been most satisfying.

Since my childhood, our world has changed so much. When I was born, plastic wasn’t on the consumer market yet. Yeah, you youngsters out there in Internet-land, the years I’ve walked the earth say I’m old, but my heart remains young. When I was a kid, it was time to go home when the lightning bugs came out. When the fire siren blew at noon, it was time to go home for lunch. When mom wanted one of us, she yelled our names out the front door. We played outdoors all day, otherwise Mom threaten us with some household chore. We only played indoors when it rained. We had games where we moved little pieces around a cardboard platform and learned to play poker before we were twelve.We used unprotected,  two-wheel transportation well into our teens, riding miles during a day. Families only had one car, and Dad always needed it to go to work.  So  much of this world doesn’t exist any more.

Games no longer involve competitors who sit next to each other. Now games are played on Ipads, Smartphones or Laptops. Your competitors might be across the room or across the world. Heck, some competitors be smarty-pants computers! You’d never know the difference. Now Mom’s text their kids to come home instead of yelling their brains out. You wear helmets when you ride your bike–if you ride a bike.

A lot has changed. Some for the good — like the Internet where the world can be connected. Where like-minded bloggers can gather. Where research is at the touch of a keyboard. Where we can entertain ourselves alone.

Our connection technology also has a dark side, though. Our electronic devices  isolate  us so much, conversation is becoming a lost art. Meeting in parks for a pick-up game of baseball is unheard of any more, and playing outside without protective equipment is prohibited. We explore nature by reading about it instead of walking through the woods. We travel vicariously through websites instead of getting on a bus, plane, or train to actually experience the place. So many of us live our lives in our heads.

I never want to go backward because I am a progressive thinker; however, I do think we need to pick and choose when we use technology. I do miss the social interactions of the pass where neighbors knew each other and looked after one another. Where spontaneous cups of coffee were shared at the kitchen table instead of a coffee houses. Where raking leaves into a huge pile in the fall would become a playground for all the kids in the neighborhood. But there I go again, being nostalgic.

My mood must be due to looking at so many old photos lately or maybe it’s because I’ve begun researching my next novel. I just finished STEPHANIA IN AMERICA, and the manuscript is with my editor and proofreader, so it’s time to get to work on something new. As a historical romance novelist, I’m always looking back to the time when my parents were young adults. Perhaps after this book, I’ll take a look at my own childhood years in the 50’s and 60’s, after all, that time period is far enough to be history too, isn’t it?

What’s In Your Writing?

writingI found a terrific editing tool, compliments of Peter D. Mallet’s “Writing in Color” website. Peter has done us all a favor by providing several links to tangible aids that can help strengthen our writing. The one I explored yesterday was AutoCrit Editing Wizard

A guest to this site can copy 500 words into the Wizard and have the text analyzed. Without buying a thing or providing a credit card number, a person can use the tool three times a day. (For those of us who aren’t math geniuses, that’s 1500 words). I bravely plopped in the first chapter of the first draft of my novel, Stephania In America, and within seconds the tool spit out an analysis.

I’m not saying that this editing wizard knows everything about editing, but I discovered I have a tendency to use the verbs, WAS  and WERE, a lot. As writers, we know  these verbs are indicative of passive voice . . . a true no-no in forceful, good writing. The other thing I like to do too much is to begin my sentences with conjunctions.

The value of this tool is to give writers a chance to critically study their prose through the eyes of a computer program. It has no feelings or judgment like a human editor. Instead, it gives you a cold analysis of things you do frequently in your writing. I thought it was eye-opening. I never dreamed I had become so lazy with my verbs, but there was the evidence right in front of me–I had lazy, passive verbs plastered throughout my text.

Using this tool reinforces what I tell my writing classes. We all have words we constantly misspell. (But now we have Microsoft Word which automatically points these out to us as soon as we type the text like a sassy English teacher with a red pen.) We all make the same grammatical errors again and again. We misplace modifiers, have pronoun references that are not clear, and use passive voice, etc. We do these things because we write the same way we think and speak–at least the first time around. There’s no way to really avoid these mistakes.

So, how do we overcome our writing weaknesses? Our only option is to be aware of  our ever-occurring weaknesses and strengthen them with practice. The second step is to go back, fix the spots that need fixing, and many times that means chopping out unnecessary words, phrases, and even sentences. (With my students, I call this phase “killing your babies.”) In the real world, it’s called editing. Good writers do this after the thoughts are put down on the paper. Think of your first draft as a lump of clay sitting on a potter’s wheel. It needs to be shaped and molded into what it was meant to be.

Using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard was a good Sunday afternoon exercise. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage everyone to kick the tires, and take this tool for a spin. You might end up in a surprising destination, just like I did.

Disproving Stereotypes

neanderthalHave you ever met a Neanderthal?

Now ladies, I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve been in a bar, and a big, burly, hairy creature comes up to you and wants to drag you out to the dance floor by your hair, you would say, “yes, I have met one,” right?

Well, that’s not the kind of wannabee Neanderthal I’m talking about. I’m talking about something REAL.

You know I watch the Science Channel a lot, so today’s lesson is going to be about the disappearance of Neanderthal man. It has always been a mystery to why homo sapiens flourished, but the Neanderthals disappeared. Neanderthals weren’t wiped out by a meteorite like the dinosaurs,  nor did they die in a plague. They just sort of disappeared. Common thought was Neanderthals were too stupid to survive, and that homo sapiens hunted them down. Guess what? “THEY” were wrong!

When the homo sapiens left Africa, they went out into all parts of the world.  They populated the world as we know it. The Neanderthals population, on the other had, was a much smaller population. They, too, lived in many parts of the world, but the sheer numbers of homo sapiens overtook the neanderthals–and not by force–it was love that brought them together! That’s right, Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens “got it on” together, athe gene pool of the neanderthals was absorbed. That’s right, the two species interbred, and through this interbreeding homo sapiens absorbed the Neanderthals. Yup, that’s right. Scientists have proven that our  hairy ancestors are part of all of us.

How did they prove this?  Simple. DNA.

Well, maybe not so simple. It actually took five years for scientists to unravel Neanderthal DNA . Then they then compared it with human DNA from different parts of the world. What they found was strands of Neanderthal DNA is within human genes! Holy caveman, batman!

Now,  it’s not a big percentage — from 1% to 3%, but it is there. And the highest concentration of Neanderthal DNA appears in people descending from Europe ancestors, more specifically, the Tuscan area in northern Italy.

Scientists also have discovered other things about this lost race. They know Neanderthals made sophisticate cutting tools. They also developed a tar-like substance to hold the stone points on their spears. And they had to have had language to be able to coordinate their hunting teams.

So, I guess the moral to this story is, never judge a person by their suspected ancestry. At the end of the day, stereotypes just aren’t worth the effort it takes to create them.

Fitting A Character Into a Preordained Box

StephaniaAt this point, my problematic character who’ve I have mentioned before, is happy. She’s maneuvered herself into a comfortable place in her life, with the exception of becoming a mother. She’s not nuts about that. She has had the baby and then  handed him to his father, saying, “Here. I’ve done my part. He’s your’s now.” Then she merrily goes off to work.

As a Mom who wanted to stay-at-home with my children, Stephania’s actions have been hard for me to swallow.  I know there are many children who suffer at the hands of mothers who didn’t want them, but writing about such a woman takes every ounce of imagination I’ve got. Stephania is a mystery to me. What do you do with a character like that?

I’ll tell you what–I’ve stopped writing. I needed a break from her and her cruel ways. I work at making her vulnerable, so the reader will have some empathy for her, but she’s really got a black heart. Sometimes I really wish I wasn’t such a goodie-two-shoes so I could write her more easily.

Another problem with this novel is it is a prequel. That means I know where this book needs to ends. So, weaving details and getting the timeline right is important. You’d think writing what came before would be easier, but this is the most difficult undertaking I’ve done so far. Pieces have to fit properly, so I set the stage for the next book (that came first). Are you confused yet?

Unlike my other novels, I’m finding I have to plot this one, and I’m not sure if that is a good thing. Usually I give my characters free rein and let them do what they have to do. But this one is different. This time I’m dictating what Stephania must accomplish, and she’s not keen about what I have in mind.

So, the going is slow. I write when Stephania is cooperating with me, and in the meantime, I continue to create other characters that are more willing to work with me. In the end, I will win this battle. I just hope the book is doesn’t show the struggle.

Let me know if you have ever come across a character that you really didn’t like and tell me what you did about it. Oh, and thanks for reading.

Barb

 

Research and Yet Another Time Change

colorful libraryIn case you didn’t notice, I took the day off yesterday. Usually on Sunday, I post a short story. (I really hope you knew that.),  but I slept in and decided after changing ALL of the clocks, I was just too pooped to bother.

I hate time changes. (You probably remember my Soap Box tirade I did on the subject last time we did this nonsense.) Isn’t hard to fathom why a change of one hour can change such havoc? My equilibrium is completely thrown off. In the Spring, I’m always an hour late and in the Fall, I’m always an hour early. It drives me bonkers.

On top of that, the warm temperatures of 40+ degrees has brought RAIN and his buddy FOG with him. Yesterday, we had the lights on until about noon. Today will be the same; that is until later this afternoon. The weatherman on the television has just said it will cool off  later and bring snow showers –Yuck! I know, I know, I’m whining about weather again. Sorry. On top of the weather, it’s Monday. That’s a depressing combination, you have to admit.

So, what to do today? Write. What else?

I’ve gotten to a section of my novel  STEPHANIA COMES TO AMERICA where I have to go and research again,  so I’ll be reading, taking notes and collecting different accounts of California in 1915. Yes,, I did say California. I can’t tell you why because that would give the story away. The California connection comes toward the end of the story and then I can go back to the manuscript and take it to the finale.

Unfortunately traveling into the past isn’t as fun as traveling in the present. Life 100 years ago WAS VERY different than what goes on today, so jumping on a plane wouldn’t work. Instead of escaping this dreary weather, I’ll be basking in the dusty stacks at the library, or I’ll  let my fingers do the walking through the Internet. The trip isn’t exotic or even fun; it’s a necessary part of bringing my readers along with the trip my characters are taking.

So, wherever you are, I certainly hope you’re spending your Monday basking in the sunshine. It has to be visible somewhere on this planet. 🙂

Heaven – Fact or Fiction?

November 28 006When I jump crawl out of bed, I always try to have a springboard of an idea to launch myself into something interesting to blog about. Like I have mentioned more than once, I use this wonderful tool as a kind of writing “warm-up” to get the old gray matter revved up for another day of writing. But this morning’s topic is EXTREMELY different from any of my other attempts to entertain.

This morning, I woke with a perplexing question. “When and where did the idea of heaven appear?” That’s right HEAVEN. Don’t ask me why that’s today’s topic, it just is.

After a brief walk through Google and Bing, one author pinpointed the date the heavenly idea of meeting God face-to-face was patented by the Jews  in 165 BC.  Before that time, heaven was just a place where God and his angels resided—no humans allowed.

But like all religious ideas, is heaven a human invention? Is there such a place? It’s nice to think of our loved ones going to a beautiful, comforting hotel to hang out around the pool with friends and family, drinking pina coladas for the rest of eternity. It’s a pleasant thought they will be happy, without pain, in the prime of their lives and best of all, we’ll get to  see them again when we die. It’s even nice to think we’ll get a reward from the Big Guy for living a good life. But it is real? Where does this place exist?

When I watch the Science Channel (most every night), I see images of asteroids, comets, neutron stars, pulsars, gas planets, darkness and cold. Surely, these violent elements of “creation” don’t offer a good place for a human to hang out for eternity; in fact, space sounds more like hell than heaven, doesn’t it?

So, if there isn’t a tangible heaven, how do you explain “near death” experiences when people are drawn down a long tunnel to a bright light? Isn’t that evidence there is life after death? Again, scientists are naysayers. Evidently, as the brain shuts down, it’s the peripheral vision that goes first, giving the impression of a tunnel. The center of your vision is what remains, giving the impression of a bright light. Bummer. There goes that “proof” of an after-life journey.

So what is the secret? What should we believe? Is heaven just a childhood dream? There is a good chance that the scientists may be right. But what if they are not? No one will ever know for sure—until–you got it–until we die.

So, what do we do? Is there no hope of a happy ending?

I think the answer is right in front of our nose. Instead of hoping there is a heaven where all our earthly lacking is fulfilled, we should live a full life while we’ve got it. While we have time, always do the best you can. Be curious.  Find that “inner child” and marvel at the world around you. Enjoy life. Have parties with friends. Celebrate milestones. Hell, Heck celebrate the littlest occasions. . . like it’s Tuesday! Make the most of the time you have.  Be kind and generous. Love everything with all your heart and soul. Be thankful. And most of all, embrace each other in love.

And if it turns out there is a celestial after party—we’ll all shout, “ Hallelujah!”